Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m the best at work-life balance, but I think it’s more complicated than that. My old friend TJay Belt (@tjaybelt) – we’ve also been friends quite a long time – has invited us all to write about it for this month’s T-SQL Tuesday.
As an employer, I’m completely in favour of having my employees finish work at the end of the working day. I have told them off for staying too late before, even though I have a tendency to work late myself. It’s one thing for me to make bad decisions, but I never want my employees to feel like I expect them to do so as well.
Let me say that again – I don’t want my employees to think I want them to have an unhealthy balance of work and life. Of course I want them to enjoy work, and to love every day even if it’s a Tuesday after a long weekend, but that definitely does not equate to working long hours or writing blog posts at 9:30pm on a Monday evening. Ahem.
I don’t even want them thinking about work the rest of the time. Because I want their minds to be elsewhere. I want them to be thinking about other things. Enjoying life. Getting the serotonin moving. Solving different kinds of problems. Using their hands maybe. Volunteering. Being creative. And not because those things make them better at their jobs (although I’m sure they do). But because those things make them better people. They help them live longer, healthier lives. And not so they can be still working for me in their 70s and 80s either.
Let me tell you about some things that I do which I think help me.
One is to be part of a business leaders group. I’m a TEC group, which internationally is known as Vistage. Once a month I spend half a day with a bunch of other people who have their own business, and we talk about various things. Sometimes we have a guest speaker who covers some topic, but every month we talk about what’s been significant in the last month, what things we’re trying to figure out, how we’re going on goals, and importantly, I’m not trying to do data or analytics. I’m not there to solve the problems of my customers, I’m there to be part of a group. To help solve different kinds of problems. To reflect. To share the burden. To be with like-minded people. I put my head into a different place, and it helps.
Another is a hobby I did for a few months a few years ago, but then stopped until earlier this year. And that’s stand-up comedy. Stand-up is slightly terrifying, even for someone who’s used to getting up in front of audiences. Trying to make people laugh is very different to explaining how an execution plan operator works. I talk about all kinds of things on stage, and I’m not trying to make them understand any new concepts, I’m not trying to inspire them to develop a new skill, I’m not even trying to make them into better people. I’m just trying to make them laugh. To provoke a response where they smile and have a chuckle. It often doesn’t work out that way, but I do find that I spend a bunch of time thinking about material, and that’s useful for a work-life balance. Because those things that occur in my head when I’m having a cup of tea or I’m in the shower (never both – that’s not a thing) are not whispering a possible answer to a business logic thing, but a punchline for a joke I was mulling over a few days earlier.
Both these things are useful to me, and relevant to my quest in achieving a work-life balance because I’m thinking about different things. I can’t say that TEC is not about work, because it really is. But it occupies a different part of my head. And comedy feels like hard work, but again it occupies a different part of my head. And thinking about things differently helps.
There are a lot of other things I could write about.
I could write about the time that I spend talking to people and trying to help them with the world. Friends who are going through hard times. Or who are going through good times. It’s tremendously useful to me to help people with anything. I typically find that I’m happier with life when I’m helping people, because it feels closer to what I’m meant to be doing.
I could write about the time I spend doing church things, because again, I’m focused on things which are not me. I think many sport are similar, because you’re having to give your attention to the particular activity you’re doing. It’s not routine like driving or running, it’s about coordinating what you’re doing with everyone else in the team. About being part of something bigger. Volunteering also fits for the same reason.
However it is that I distract myself, I find that my headspace is important to achieving it. It’s not just about watching a mindless TV show or playing some mindless game (which are both welcome distractions way too often), but the fact that they are mindless makes them less balancing on the work-life scale.
What I want in any distraction is for my mind to be engaged in something different. And ideally, doing something that actually matters like serving something bigger than me. Or writing a joke.